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Ask Rufus: Factory Hill, Frog Bottom or Burns Bottom, it's a historic neighborhood

 

This historic building is one of those threatened with destruction in the redevelopment project in Burns Bottom. Though I think of it as the old Burdine and Austin Law Office, it actually was constructed in 1912 as the Columbus Salvation Army Center. Such buildings tell stories that are an important part of our cultural heritage.

This historic building is one of those threatened with destruction in the redevelopment project in Burns Bottom. Though I think of it as the old Burdine and Austin Law Office, it actually was constructed in 1912 as the Columbus Salvation Army Center. Such buildings tell stories that are an important part of our cultural heritage. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Rufus Ward

 

 

The neighborhood is now commonly called Burns Bottom but in the past has also been known as Factory Hill and Frog Bottom. It is one of the oldest and most historic neighborhoods in Columbus. That area's roots go back to the founding of Columbus and the neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

 

What is now the Hitch Lot Farmers Market and the adjoining soccer complex in Burns Bottom was the location of the earliest known industrial site in Columbus. The original United States Survey of 1823, which includes Columbus, calls Moore's Creek the "Tan Yard Branch" and shows a farm or improved area south of the creek about where the soccer complex is now located. Second Avenue North going west from the YMCA is the original Military Road and led to its 1817 Tombigbee River ferry location. It is apparent that by 1823 there was a hide tanning business operating in the area of the present day Farmers Market and soccer complex. 

 

Even earlier accounts reflect that just below the mouth of Moore's Creek was the favored high water crossing of the Tombigbee by the Choctaws during the 1700s and early 1800s and is one of the likely locations for Hernando de Soto to have crossed the Tombigbee River in December 1540. By 1819 the Tombigbee River ferry was in operation at that site on the northwest corner of the new Town of Columbus, Alabama. 

 

The 1822 minutes of the Trustees of Franklin Academy, which was the first governing body of Columbus, mention that "Bonn and Tinsley" were operating a tan yard. In the 1830s, a man by the name of Goode "had his tan yard at the intersection of Franklin and Military Streets." That would be the present-day intersection of Third Street North and Second Avenue North or the same location where the 1849 Keeler map of Columbus shows a Tan Yard.  

 

As Columbus grew during the mid to late 1800s, the Burns Bottom area became a site for industrial development. The tan yard site eventually became the Columbus Manufacturing Co. in 1858. By the 1870s the area experienced an industrial boom. Industries in that area included Columbus Woolen Mill, Union Cotton and Lumber Mill, Tombigbee Cotton Mill, Columbus Ice Company, the city gas works, blacksmith and wheelwright shops and a grist mill. After 1900 those industries began to decline or move.  

 

With the one block no longer being used, the city addressed a new problem. The "Hitch Lot" was set aside by the city in 1936, as increasing moter vehicle traffic created a need to prevent horse and wagon traffic from clogging up Main Street. 

 

Today most of the remaining Burns Bottom neighborhood is being acquired by the city for redevelopment. Actually the area, as reflected in the National Register District name, was three neighborhoods. It was said that: "The name Factory Hill generally refers to the community occupying the slopes of Pleasant Ridge (along the 100-400 blocks of Second Avenue North and the 100-400 blocks of Fourth Street North), although no definite boundaries exist. Burns Bottom occupies the central and west-central section of the district, and Frog Bottom the northern section." 

 

There has been much discussion and news coverage of the threatened destruction of the historic Burns House next to the soccer complex as part of that redevelopment project. The home is about 180 years old and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The redevelopment district in which it is located is part of the Factory Hill-Frog Bottom-Burns Bottom National Register of Historic Places District. With the spotlight on the old Burns house, the importance of the whole neighborhood and other houses there has been over looked. 

 

According to the National Register of Historic Places, the Burns Bottom neighborhood is important to the cultural heritage of Columbus as it "is the best preserved example of a turn-of-the-century mill village in Columbus and visually contributes much toward understanding lifestyles of the laboring classes of that period." The nomination which was approved by the Department of Interior on September 2, 1980, had been written and submitted by Ken P'Pool, then an architectural historian with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. 

 

The National Register also states that the district "... represent a significant component of the historic and architectural development of Columbus. Primarily residential in character, the district is representative of the type neighborhoods inhabited by Columbus' early factory workers (an often-neglected part of local history)."  

 

The buildings there represent the fabric of heritage of our community and its history, yet they are slated for destruction. Just because a building is not big and fancy does not mean it does not have an important story to tell and is not worthy of preservation.  

 

One of the structures that I have always found interesting is at 224 Third Street North. It is a two-story building with the first floor cinder- block and the second frame. I always thought of it as the former Burdine and Austin Law Office, but its history goes back more than 100 years. I discovered that story one day when researching the Titanic disaster of April 1912. The newspaper front page that carried the news of the Titanic also carried a photo of that building being completed as the new home of the Columbus Salvation Army. The neighborhood is filled with other interesting houses, including shotgun, saddlebag and saltbox style houses which are worthy of preserving, as houses of those styles are rapidly being lost and with them a notable cultural heritage. 

 

These homes of Burns Bottom reflect every bit as much history and heritage as the grand homes of South Side. The preserving of the cultural heritage of Columbus should not just be the grand mansions but should include the simple cottages that reflect the lives of everyday people such as the laborers who worked in factories or the carpenters who actually constructed the grand homes.  

 

Though it is not practical to save all of the houses in Burns Bottom, it would be a sin not to save some of them and honor those all too often forgotten working men and women who labored to build Columbus. In other parts of Columbus old houses that are not mansions have been restored and have revitalized the city block on which they are located. Why could that not be done here? 

 

The 76-page National Register Nomination as approved may be found at http://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/nom/dist/101.pdf

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]

 

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